Oh glorious summer break from high school!!!

Creole had purchased a spit of land toward the mouth of the lake beyond Palmarejo and was beginning to build a beach club there for its employees. Many of the fathers were spending their weekends there working on the main pavilion, etc. Dan Allen Sweeney's dad, Dan, was contributing his time as well.

I think it was Dan Allen who suggested that we go the beach for a week as I recall and so, Dan and his brother Sherman, Randy and Mike Lanciault and I were dropped off at the compound. We brought a canvas tarp, machetes, sleeping bags, a cooler of ice with eggs bacon and butter and, a fry pan, straw hats, a Coleman lantern and bathing suits and a strong belief that we could overcome any obstacle.

We built a lean-to out of scrap lumber and threw the tarp over it for shelter from the elements and we built a small cook fire just outside the entrance. We were ready for fun!!

A pontoon platform had been anchored to the lake bottom about 100 feet off shore from the beach and we would swim out to it and lay there toasting in the sun (that contributed to why I now have premature liver spots on the backs of my hands).


When the tide was going out the water current off the beach was very swift and the platform took on a significant slant against the current and became something like a ski ramp. That made it even more fun.

There was a little cantina not far from the beach and we would head over there for cervesas. A local fisherman had caught a huge sting ray which lay out in the sun and I cut off its tail which was about three feet long and dried it in the sun and it became a wicked whip that I had for many years.

The wind would whip through the coconut palms along the beach and we learned to eat scrambled eggs without biting down in order to avoid the grating of the sand in teeth. Ummmm, good eggs.

There were a number of areas where the land jutted out into the lake with shallow bays and you could walk across the bays to explore them but you had to shuffle your feet so that you did not step on the many sting rays that lay covered with sand and invisible to the eye. If you walked far enough along the beaches you would reach the mouth of the lake where the water turned to salt water and you could look out into the bay at the mouth of the lake. It was beautiful.

At sunset I used to go out to jutting points of land overhanging with palms and I would sit and watch the splendid sunsets and then the lights of Maracaibo starting to wink in the distance across the lake.

Now nights were a different matter, we all crowded into the lean-to and attempted to sleep but you could hear a crashing and shuffling in the underbrush which kept us awake. So we decided to find out what was making the racket and taking the Coleman lantern in hand and arming ourselves with machetes and poles we had cut for hiking around we started looking for the source and what we finally located were land crabs. Huge ugly things with one massive claw. The hunt was on!! We were able to catch a number of them and we tied them to a palm tree and went back to get some sleep but the mosquitoes kept us up most of the night. In the morning we determined that the crabs were edible and we found a sizeable bucket and filled it with fresh water and boiled the crabs and had a fine feast. After that land crabs in the immediate area became scarce.

I recall walking out into the lake until about waist deep at night with the Colman lantern held high and waiting for the fish to swarm around me and I used to flay away at them with my machete. Never got one as I recall but darn near sliced my legs as the blade would twist when it entered the water.

I remember that Mr. Rincon, the husband of our former Spanish instructor at the staff school had set up a small campsite in a little trailer down near the beach where he was camping and he invited us over and offered us fresh oysters that he picked from the rocks at the entrance to the lake and he invited us to go out with him which we did and you could lean over the side of his skiff and pull large oysters from the stones. We filled a bucket and took them back to his camp and had fresh oysters on the half-shell with fresh lime juice, catsup and Tabasco sauce with a cold cervesa.

The Sunday we were to return, Dan Allen's father arrived on the scene towing a ski boat that he had borrowed from someone. He put it in the water and began to tow Dan Allen and his brother, Sherman, and eventually invited the rest of us to ski. I had never water skied before and I could not get the hang of getting up on the skis. Each time, I incurred a fresh-water enema and finally stood up but Dan's father's boat was very powerful and he would open the throttle and I would skip across the water with my legs spread and Dan's father gave me the nickname of "Flecha" which was the name of the high-speed passenger catamarans that now operated from Cabimas to Maracaibo. If you fell off the skis when the boat was at peak speed you actually bounced along the waves before you went under. For you who knew him, Dan Sweeney's father was the greatest guy. He loved kids and I think he had a bit of kid in him. My father and mother were longtime friends of the Sweeneys.

That week has remained burned into my memory ever since. I have clear pictures of the beach compound, my friends and their parents there and the things we did -- that contributed to another great summer in Venezuela.

We returned to the beach several times that summer to swim and while away lazy summer days with our friends.